The digital music revolution has made is easy to amass hundreds of hours of tunes on your computer, but it's not always as painless to listen to your collection away from your PC. Bose's newly announced SoundLink Wireless Music System (coming August 27) is focused on solving that problem as simply as possible; just plug a USB dongle into your computer, and it promises to stream your digital music collection and streaming audio services (like Pandora or Internet radio stations) to the included speaker. Even better, the speaker has a built-in, lithium ion rechargeable battery, making it easy to carry it to another room or out to the deck.
The press release doesn't get much more detailed than that. The SoundLink system doesn't use your home Wi-Fi network, but we imagine it most likely creates its own 2.4GHz network to transmit the audio from your PC to the speaker--no word on the expected range. Bose also claims to need no additional software; that's not surprising, as the USB dongle probably acts like a "USB speaker," meaning that whatever audio can be played over your PC speakers can be transmitted over the network. However, we'll be interested to see how well playback controls from the remote work in a variety of playback scenarios, included Web-based music services like Pandora. The SoundLink system does include an auxiliary input, which is a nice plus if, for example, a friend brings over an iPod or you want to use the speaker out of range of the wireless network.
As much as we like the SoundLink's style and thoughtful feature package (it reminds us of the Sony VGF-WA1), the $550 price seems way too high, especially with products like Mint 220 offering much of the same functionality for a little over $100. Not to mention that there are plenty of inexpensive Wi-Fi radios that offer wireless music streaming, although in Bose's defense, there currently isn't an easily recommendable battery-powered unit available. If the SoundLink Wireless music system hits all the right usability notes, it might be the right product for deep-pocketed digital music fans that don't want to deal with networking issues, but we'll have to do a hands-on test to see how it works in the real world.